Here are some scary plastic facts:

  • Circa 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and an estimated half of that is for single-use only.
  • More than one million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide – that adds up to an annual amount of 500 billion bags.
  • Plastic takes about 400 years to degrade, and releases toxic methane gas as it breaks down.
  • More than 6 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year.
  • Marine rubbish, mostly plastic, is the cause of death for more than a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals every year.
  • If we don’t change anything, the ocean will contain more plastic waste than fish (by weight) by the year 2050…which isn’t too long from now.

We know by now that plastic is bad news, but can we totally eliminate plastic from our lives? If you take a look around you, it might seem impossible at first. There are bags from shopping trips, food takeaways, and plastic wrapping around household items you just purchased.

We’ve talked to a few women who have made small but significant lifestyle changes to decrease their plastic usage. Here are the best tips that we all can follow to help end plastic pollution.

Photo: Erica T.

Ditch the plastic straw

According to Australian scientists, an estimated 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws end up on coastlines around the world. We could all do our part to decrease this amount by refusing a straw when ordering drinks. If you’re not ready to part from it yet, purchase a metal or bamboo straw that you can carry and reuse, which was what Sabahan marketing executive Erica T. did. “I bought my reusable metal straw from Green Semporna, a community-based NGO dedicated to environmental conservation. When I go out, I just tell the waiter that I don’t need a straw – it isn’t hard or embarrassing. The reactions I’ve gotten from people around me when I do it have been mixed, but mostly they’ve been positive.” By this simple action alone, Erica is not only doing her part in stopping plastic pollution, she has also gotten other people to do the same. “My friends are planning to get their own reusable straws and ditch single-use plastic ones, which I think is great.”

Photo: Melissa Leong

Use reusable containers for fresh groceries

Melissa Leong, Programme Director at Borneo Eco Film Festival, tries to go plastic-free when she’s grocery shopping. “I’m learning to plan my grocery trips a little better by bringing my own reusable containers for plastic and other fresh produce. For loose items like fruits, I’d ask the shop assistant to just weigh them and get the price sticker to be scanned at the cashier. Most grocery stores don’t mind it at all, and are happy to oblige.” Alternatively,  you could also bring your own bag from home to put fruits/vegetables in.

Stash tote bags in your car or handbag for purchases

We often don’t realise how many plastic bags we accept when we’re out and about – it’s not only limited to grocery stores.

Tuyang Initiative co-founder Juvita T. Wan keeps cloth tote bags in her car that are used for any kind of shopping trip. “Having reusable bags in the car is practical, I just take one or two with me to the store. Instead of them giving me their plastic bag, I just tell the staff to bag my purchased items in my tote.” Making this a habit will lessen the amount of single-use plastic bags that are handed to us every day.

Get your own bottle and food container for takeaways

Remember our school days when our parents gave us our own water bottle and lunch container every day? Well, it’s time to pick up that practice again. Buy a tumbler for your coffee runs instead of getting a to-go cup every time, and get a stainless steel bottle instead of buying bottled water.

Photo: Deiseree Daniel

You can avoid plastic when it comes to takeaway food, too. “I have a bunch of reusable food containers for my family and myself,” said Deiseree Daniel, a Senior Content Creator of an advertising agency. “I bring a container to work every day. It’s used for lunch that I’ve brought from home, or when I decide to order takeaway food, I’ll tell the restaurant to pack it in my own container instead of taking their plastic ones.

Be a conscious fashionista

A majority of clothes are made of synthetic fibers that don’t biodegrade. Don’t worry, we’re not asking you to stop buying clothes all together, we all just need to be more conscious when it comes to apparel.

Nadia chooses to rent a dress, instead of buying a new one every time she hosts an event.

TV host and emcee Nadia Heng tries her best to be mindful of the environment with her fashion choices. “Instead of buying a new dress every time I host an event, I opt to rent from services such as Rent A Dress and Plush Porter. It’s much more sustainable this way, and is easy on the wallet.” She also shared other fashion-conscious tips: spend on fabrics that last, such as natural materials, and rather than being tempted to do fast fashion, consider how much you’ll wear a clothing item before deciding to purchase it.

Opt for eco-friendly sanitary products

It’s estimated that in a lifetime, a woman will use at least 11,000 tampons or disposable pads. While mostly made of cotton, they also contain plastic elements in applicators and packaging.

Zero-waste advocate Ana Jonessy has chosen to ditch disposables and use a silicone menstrual cup when it comes to that time of the month. “It felt a bit awkward at first, but once you get the hang of using the menstrual cup, it’s easy. I don’t regret the decision at all – it’s environmentally friendly, it saves me money, and it’s super convenient,” shared Ana. Made from medical grade silicon, menstrual cups can last for years if washed and stored properly. Another great option for eco-friendly sanitary product is reusable cloth menstrual pads.

Say no to microbeads

Countries such as Canada, UK and US have banned plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care items such as face scrubs and toothpastes. Nonetheless, there are still brands out there whose products contain microbeads, so go for the ones that have gone microbead-free.

Ask yourself if you really need it

Sometimes it’s really hard to not shop, especially in affordable stores that seem to offer cute, wonderful things (a certain Japanese chainstore comes to mind. We’re guilty as charged). But in the end, our shopping habits will just contribute to plastic pollution and wastage. The next time you’re out and you want to buy something, ask yourself ‘Do I really need this?’ and spend some time to think about it.

Simple yet impactful changes can be made by all of us, and hopefully, we’ll one day see the end of plastic pollution.